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Concert Review: The Battlefield Band At The Brunton Hall, Musselburgh 24/02/09

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Just to set some context for folks who see me as some kind of heavy metal fiend, many of my primary school years saw me living with my elderly Great Uncle George and Great Aunt Euphemia, a delightful couple who were quite happy to let a boisterous wee boy into their home. Now the point of this childhood history is that my Great Uncle George was not only a fiddle maker, but a member of a fiddle orchestra that used to play regularly at dances and concerts in Edinburgh. So, it's in my blood. Which is why I was to be found sandwiched in between a consumptive pensioner and a noisy and intrusive, personalized Audio Description service for the blind as the Battlefield Band took to the stage of the Brunton Hall in Musselburgh.

For those who don't know, the Battlefield Band are one of Scotland's longest running and most successful folk bands, now well into their fourth decade. A well known training ground for top notch folk musicians they can count Karine Polwart and John McCusker among their many (many) ex-members. The current lineup includes the sole remaining founder member, Alan Reid on keyboards, vocals and accordion alongside fiddler Alasdair White, Irish vocalist and guitarist Sean O'Donnell and American born piper Mike Katz who also has a bash at everything else including the small pipes, flute, recorder, penny whistle and lute.

The theatre, where they filmed their most recent live DVD, was probably about 80% full, and once I'd relocated I settled down for what turned out to be a top quality evenings entertainment. The band don't stick to traditional fare, switching between Scots material and more mainstream singer / songwriter fare. They like to mix up their own material with interpretations of more familiar fare by the likes of Ewan McColl and Woody Guthrie. The transitions between their own songs like the excellent "The Gathering Storm" and the less excellent "The Green And The Blue" into fast and furious fiddle driven reels can be a bit uneasy at times, but they never gave less than their best.

They're also just as happy to bang out a Breton march or a Yiddish dance tune, and when they get local folk musician Russell Hunter up on stage, it's for an impromptu jam, with White and ZZ Top refugee, Katz, shouting out the tempo and tune changes as they go along, something I'm sure gave the band a lot of pleasure. Almost a much pleasure as they gleaned from not having to give a lengthy explanation about the title to the Katz pipe tune, "Dookin' For Beetroot", something that few folk outside Scotland understand.

The band are all engaging personalities happy to stand and chat to the crowd, as well as conducting audience singalongs to "Nancy Whiskey" or shushing the crowd as they play an alternate (if legally obligatory in this year of the Homecoming) version of Robert Burns' "My Luv's Like A Red Red Rose". This one plucked from the delightfully titled 18th century book "Johnsons Musical Museum". Of course, they then segue into a boisterous pipe tune dedicated to well-known American politician and wrestler Jesse Ventura, something that sums the appeal of the Battlefield Band better than anything I could ever say.

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About Stuart A Hamilton